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Thinkers50 in 50 Seconds with Alexander Betts

All 50 Second Q&As

Alexander Betts is Professor of Forced Migration and International Affairs, and Director of the Refugee Studies Centre, at the University of Oxford. His research focuses mainly on the politics and economics of refugee assistance, and he has also written on migration and humanitarianism. In 2016, he was named by Foreign Policy as one of the world’s top 100 global thinkers, and honoured as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. He is author of 10 books, including (with Paul Collier) Refuge: Transforming a Broken Refugee System (coming out in April 2017).

What book are you currently reading?

I’m about to start Joseph Stiglitz’s ‘The Euro: How a Common Currency Threatens the Future of Europe’.

How do you describe what you do?

I’m an Oxford professor who runs a research centre focusing on refugees and migration.

Who or what is your biggest inspiration?

Many of the refugees I have met in my research: they offer a source of inspiration through their resilience and capacity to adapt.

What does success look like?

In my area, it is creating ideas that lead to a positive change in the world.

What is your competitive advantage?

My ability to communicate complex ideas to a generalist audience.

How do you keep your thinking fresh?

I try to plug into networks of people that work on different things from me.

How much time do you spend travelling?

I used to spend up to 6 months abroad, including lots of fieldwork in Africa. Now I have a young family I try to spend as much time as possible at home.

What is the secret of a great presentation?

Architecture: once the basic scaffolding is there, everything else follows.

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

At university I did debating and public speaking competitively. It taught me how to think and how to speak.

What is your next goal?

Aside from running the London and Berlin marathons in sub-2:40, to plan my next book. I have a sabbatical year ahead and I’m thinking of working on a book that explains why people migrate and why states respond to human mobility in the ways that they do.

Describe yourself in three words.

Intuitive, idealistic, introspective.

Find out more about Alexander Betts at He can be followed on Twitter @alexander_betts. He will be speaking at the Thinkers50 European Business Forum in Odense in May.

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